Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Count down ...

By this time tomorrow the plan is to hanging on the hook in Middle River. At least two other boats, Happy Dance and Jade, are planning the same thing. We have been on the dock for so long that it almost feels like heading out for the first time again. I keep running things through my head, what have we forgotten, what should we have done that we didn't do, what kind of problems might we have getting off the dock and through the bridges … all stuff that was old hat when we left the Islands, all stuff that feels like new hat again. Yet we are only going a few miles and will still be in the heart of Fort Lauderdale when we get there. But once there the distance between us and land will be too far to step over. And for some reason that makes all the difference in the world.

It is likely different for those who have been doing this a long time; a few months on the dock in this part of the world, then a few months on a dock an ocean away on the other side of the world, all part of the life. But we are still short of being out a year, just barely getting comfortable with being cruisers when The Thing, The Bear, and The Dock nailed us down for nearly 5 months. Yep, that means half our cruising life hasn't been cruising at all. Still, there is hope that the learning curve will not be nearly as steep this time around, that in a few weeks we will be back to the comfort level we knew crossing the Gulf Stream for Biscayne Bay. At the moment though, I am feeling like a newbie once again.

Deb is out taking care of a few last details, the most frustrating of which is the Hack that caught Home Depot also caught us. (You guessed it, Home Depot for boat parts … gotcha!) Like a lot of gypsies the few bills we do have are auto pay, to a credit card that no longer exists. So we are living on the little cash we had stashed away while the plastic gets straightened out, and at least it didn't happen while we were out of the country.

The dink in on deck, the Merc coaxed to life and now hung on the aft pulpit. (Friend Robert has an interesting comment on my last post about the Merc. You should check it out and see if you agree.) The Beast has been warmed up once more and all fluid levels checked. The bilge is as dry as the bilge ever gets. Even the lazarette is mostly under control, and there is some more room in there since we unloaded the sails we were never going to use.

The foredeck is, well, I think is is about ready. The truth is it has been a while since I set it for being under way, and there are a lot of details up there. But the next few weeks will be easy, short trips and a good shake down for an out-of-practice crew. I'm feeling pretty good about our chances of getting going again.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Reluctance ...

As most know by now Kintala and I have one of the more dysfunctional relationships in the cruiser world. We normally battle our way through whichever maintenance / repair / system failure / design disaster is the current focus of our relationship, and reach some kind of uneasy truce. Just occasionally, in those rare moments when most major systems seem to be working, moments when I am not putting bandages on sliced hands or munching aspirin to soothe aching joints after taking another boat-work induced beating, I will admit that it isn't always her fault. When it comes to mechanicing (defined as taking a tool in one's hands and trying to actually make something work that wasn't working before) Kintala has suffered the ministrations of fools, imbeciles, lunatics, hacks, charlatans, con-men, and the occasional honest efforts of those too addled to know which end of a screw-driver one should hold – but giving it their best effort anyway. I have uncovered things so poorly executed they can't even be called “work”, being more like the wreckage one would expect from someone having a seizure while running a chain saw. And while horror stories of fellow cruisers abound, and I share their pain, deep in my own heart I always held Kintala as THE example of what the miscreants of the marine industry will do given the slightest chance. She is the screwed-up boat against which all other screwed-up boats can be measured. Their owners can take solace in the fact that, at least, their boat is not as screwed-up as this one.

But, as of tonight, I am reluctant to admit that Kintala may not be so bad. Those who twisted her mechanical soul into the diabolical mistress that hounds my working days are not, it turns out, the very worst of their breed. Indeed, there is one out there so utterly incompetent, so savagely incapable of rational thinking or an honest effort, that no device anywhere could survive the touch of his hand. It is a story I would not believe were it not told by Friend Bill, a true boat guru, and told in his own unique way. You can find the tale here:


Kintala, by the way, is resting in one of those rare moments where most of the important stuff seems to be working. Her dink, on the other hand, is not. After a long day of cleaning, prodding, de-fueling, re-fueling, oil changing, and prodding some more, the Merc on the Dink refuses, once again, to run. This is a bit of a problem given that the hours are counting down to us leaving this dock and going back to the hook and the mooring ball life we love. Dinks are kind of important when land is a few hundred to a few thousand feet away. Tomorrow is a “must get it done” day … again. Fail and the hook and mooring ball life will be full of rowing and struggling against wind and current. And yes, I know it is the carburetor. It is always the carburetor. It is the carburetor for everyone, all the time, and the Internet is full of rants against these sorry excuses for engines. Engines offered by one of the “very best” of the marine industry giants. Engines that have to be nursed like the dying, susceptible to the slightest hint of a bad diet or coming cold. “Robust” was clearly not part of the design goal. Nor was reliability. But hell, slap some advertising on it and sell it.

We had go-carts when I was a young gear-head. The “bad boy” carts had 10HP engines. Most of us could only manage 5. Younger Brother and I ran a salvaged lawn mower engine bolted into a once-upon-a-time wrecked frame. The thing would hardly go in a straight line. It had marginal brakes, no suspension, and a single gear. But pull on the rope and the motor would start. It didn't matter if it had been sitting all winter. It didn't matter if the gas was old and smelled a little funny. Sure, sometimes we had to clean a spider web out of the vent line, or poke a pencil through the gas filter, but a couple of kids in a couple of minutes could usually coax the thing to life before Mom called us in for dinner.

I am damned sure that thing didn't have a Merc in it.

(Said Brother, by the way, turned out to be a truly gifted mechanic who has spent most of his life repairing some of the world's largest and most powerful mobile cranes. Pieces of equipment where the cost of down time is rung up in thousands of dollars per MINUTE. He is, and I am not kidding, a Wizard. I wish my hands held half the talent of his.)

In spite of the need to get the Dink Dinkable, this afternoon and evening were taken with another gathering of the little community that has formed here. Mizzy and Brian, Keith and Katrina, Ron and Marry Beth, Deb and I, and Craig, will all be leaving as soon as we can. Frank and Audrey, and James, will be staying. For them, this is “home”. For the rest of us “home” is “out there”. The gatherings reflect the tribe's reluctance to say that last “good-bye” to people who have become good friends.

This summer, and this first year, are nearly over.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

It's about time ...

Freedom is in the air. Renewal. A new awakening with the realization that we are in this together, the future holding promise of peace and cooperation. Fantastic new insights lie just over the horizon and while there will be challenges, the human community - of which we are all a part - will meet them with innovation, even joy.

Kintala is ready to leave this dock and join the cruising community once again.

You thought I was talking about the country or the world? Please, take another look. Those people are screwed.

We will not be going very far at first. There is still some hurricane season left so we will lurk in places with little fetch and good holding for now. And we will not be leaving the dock for a couple of days yet. The bill is paid through the end of the month. Waiting to the last day to add water, pump out, and stock up seems a good plan. We are out of practice with balancing the level in the water tank going down against the level in the holding tank going up, and being somewhere to take care of them. The anchor hasn't been wet since we left the islands so I'm likely to fumble around our foredeck like an addled monkey at first. Our foredeck has always been a tough place to work and we have added a second furling system, control line, and permanent stay to the mix. And though I haven't been loafing these past few months, anchor lifting muscles are likely a bit out of shape.

All of which reminds me, any who are still outfitting a boat for cruising might think hard about having these three things on board; water maker, Lectra/san head system, and a powered windlass. I know this is not the “go simple, go now” kind of thing. They are expensive (which is why Kintala has none of the three) and maintenance heavy. But they are things that can help one stay away from land longer without worry, and I wish we had them on board. And I really wish the powered windlass we don't have had a remote switch at the helm. I am completely jealous of those of you so equipped.

This will be our second season exploring the south-east coast of FL, maybe our last if the new anchor laws take effect. I am looking forward to a much more relaxed experience than we had last year. We know our way around here, at least a little bit. There are some places we missed last year, some we didn't even know about, that we want to see. Biscayne Bay will get a thorough looking-at and we hope to spend many a night on the hook out in its clear and placid waters. And when the waters are not placid, we know places to go and hide.

There is also hope that friends, now north and heading this way, will find their way close enough to Kintala to share sundowners and stories. It is a bit weird being here and knowing the herd is heading our way, instead of trailing along at the tail of the pack and shivering our way south.

In any case we are getting ready to go cruising, and its about time.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Liebster Award

I'm torn.

We write this blog for several reasons. The primary one was because both Tim and I love to write and the blog provided an outlet for us to deal with the many experiences surrounding our decision to retire onto a boat. The other reasons included keeping the many family members and friends we have at our starting point in the Midwest around St. Louis apprised or our antics, and another being that, hopefully, we will save some people from making the same stupid mistakes we made in preparing to cruise into our retirement. Along the way we have made some incredible friends of the lifelong type, a benefit we never really expected, and developed a readership that, quite frankly, astounds me. So I guess that it shouldn't surprise me that the current trend of Liebster Award nominations sweeping the web and social media should land squarely on our page.  We've been nominated now several times and to be honest, the first ones landed during the great Floating Bear debacle and I simply didn't have the time or energy to sit and answer so many questions, at least with any serious attention, which is the only way I write. I was already feeling bad about neglecting our own writing and about our lack of time to read even some of our favorite blogs.

In addition to being busy, I've always had this awful dislike for all things chain letter. It seems to me to be a bit ridiculous in the cruising community because there is a highly finite group of blogs and the award can only be passed around so many times before producing some seriously grumpy bloggers.  However, in the interest and spirit of the award I've decided to cave and to do my best to answer the questions put to us by two of the recent nominations. I won't be nominating any future award winners at the end, though, and rather than try to explain, I'll pass on Behan Gifford of Sailing Totem fame's explanation of her decision to do the same. With her permission, I have quoted her final paragraph from her Liebster Award post, because I simply can't express my opinion on the matter any more eloquently than she has:

"Thank you.

A cliche, but it’s true: it’s an honor to be nominated. I’m grateful for the recognition, and for the opportunity to be a little part in helping others fulfill their dreams to live differently. It’s one my primary motivations to keep writing. The Liebster tradition is to nominate others, but the blogging world for cruisers is pretty small, and there are nominations already in and shared for most of my faves already. So instead of punting back, I’m just going to say: there are some beautiful, inspiring blogs out there. I keep my favorites listed on our links page, and I hope you’ll turn there- and to my nominators, Genevieve, Tammy, and Lyndy, to find your own further inspiration. And DANG, but you are lucky to have a wealth to draw from! The handful of blogs in our pre-cruising days are dwarfed by the awesome writing and images coming out now. If there was ever fodder to feed a dream…"
Behan Gifford, SV Totem

From Latitude 43:
  1.  When did you first catch the sailing/cruising bug?
    1. One day in 2007 I was particularly fed up with my job. While sitting at the computer trying to keep up my Quicken I was trying to imagine what life we could live that would allow us to retire early. Aviation is not a particularly lucrative profession and our retirement funds were not particularly expansive, so I began to think about a houseboat. One we could keep our motorcycles on. I popped my head over the banister to the living room and asked Tim, "What would you think about retiring onto a boat?" And there you have it. If you have any interest in how we got from houseboat to sailboat, it's here.
  2. Describe your worst repair or maintenance job on the boat besides the head. Everyone already knows that’s a shitty job.
    1. The worst routine maintenance job for me is cleaning the sump box. It fills with old soap, disgusting body slough and hair. ewwwww. For Tim it's changing the oil. The oil filter on the Westerbeast is in the absolute worst part of our engine since our engine is backwards and has a V-drive. He is always cut and bleeding when he's done and it takes about 8 engine diapers to complete the job.
  3. If you could turn back time just 3 years what would your cruising life be like today? If I could turn back time just 5 minutes I would have asked a different question because now I have that stupid Cher song in my head.
    1. I don't know about 3 years, but if I could turn it back 6 years I would have sold the house before the crash when it was worth twice what it is now. We would have rented a one room apartment and lived more frugally and we would have twice the money to cruise that we have now. Hindsight is always 20/20.
  4. Music soothes the soul. Do you listen to music onboard? What type of music and on what media? If it’s 70’s disco please decline the award and I’ll remove you from my feed. Just kidding. Feel free to add a mirror ball to the salon and dance all night long. I don’t judge. Much.
    1.  We use our iPads for music with a speaker. We have a bluetooth stereo speaker on our wishlist but don't have it yet. The type depends on what we're doing. Mellow? Stevie Nicks or Crosby Stills Nash & Young. Frustrating project for me involves Metallica plain and simple. Tim is a classic rock fan and usually wants Mountain if he's working on the boat. We both love Stevie Ray Vaughn. And no, there will never be any Cher on our boat.
  5. Was there ever a time on the water when you thought "Oh shit!" and all the fun was over for that day?
    1. The day the V-drive and transmission blew up.
  6. Wine, beer, booze or tea? Doesn't matter to me. I get high on life. 
    1. I'm a water drinker. Lots of it. The rare occasion that I drink alcohol it's usually a glass of Barefoot Moscato or Coconut Rum and orange juice. Tim is a beer drinker and rum & coke. The acquisition of our Magic Bullet opened up the opportunity for our newly established morning routine, Mocha Frappes. Bad, bad habit, but ohhhhhh so good.
  7. Has there ever been a destination you couldn't wait to arrive at only to be disappointed when you got there?
    1. Absolutely. It's here - Cooley's Landing Marina in Ft. Lauderdale.
  8. What part of cruising do you dislike the most besides no flushing toilets or bloggers asking stupid questions?
    1. The hardest and most frustrating thing for me is the constant fight for internet. I'm a tech junkie and internet is always an issue. Tim likes to watch the Moto GP races and the connections are never fast enough. Tim will say that the thing he dislikes most is the constant, never-ending, pressing project list.
  9. Describe the best time you ever had on a boat unless it was illegal, then just email me.
    1. Wasn't illegal but it involves the V-berth....sure you still want to ask???
And from Mike at This Rat Sailed:

  1. Introduce us to your crew.  Who are they and what role do they play in your operation?
    1. Tim - captain, chief weather watcher, engine mechanic, woodworker extraordinaire, chief blog writer
    2. Deb - admiral, chief cook and bottle washer, locker organizer, navigator, official seamstress, official blog photographer
  2. What sort of boat do you have and would you recommend it for other adventurers hoping to live aboard?  What do you like the least about your choice?
    1. 1982 Tartan 42. A really incredible, fast, sleek, blue water boat with a stout heart that would be great for anyone planning on crossing oceans. Unfortunately...
    2. It turns out we are coastal cruisers so the lack of a good large, liveable cockpit, large comfortable seating below and big lazarettes is a constant problem for us.
  3. What are your sailing plans, if you have any, for the future?
    1. We hope to return to the islands this winter and back to the Chesapeak next summer, but since none of our plans this summer came to pass I wouldn't bet on it
  4. How do you support your lifestyle while sailing and cruising? 
    1. We're living on savings and the occasional canvas job that I do for other cruisers. We would love to write for money but so far that hasn't become a reality.
  5. What’s the best experience you’ve had while living aboard? 
    1. Being in the Bahamas and getting to know the locals there was the highlight of our year so far cruising. The sense of freedom there, the wonderful sailing, the colors, the incredible beaches. It truly is a paradise.
  6. Name the most challenging experience you have had while living aboard and what did you do to overcome it?
    1. The most challenging experience for us was the month of working on our kids' boat, The Floating Bear. It was an extremely difficult month and there was no overcoming it. Sometimes you just have to plow through to the other side of a difficult circumstance. Everyone thinks this lifestyle is all white sandy beaches and Mai Tais. In reality, one of our friends sums it up best, "I just didn't think it would be this hard." I'm not trying to discourage anyone. It is absolutely worth it, but you need to know going in that, in all likelihood, it will be the hardest thing you've ever done.
  7. Is living aboard and sailing an alternative way of life for you, an escape from the system, or is it just a temporary adventure?
    1. It is absolutely an alternative way of life for us. We were so discouraged with "the system" both politically and socially, and so completely burned by the corporate game that we just didn't want to play it anymore. The adventure is a bonus, the icing on the cake.
  8. Any big mistakes you have learned from that others may learn from too?
    1. We've made more mistakes than I could recount here. If you're really bored, just go back to the beginning of the blog and read. I promise it will be entertaining.
  9. What advice would you give to those that may be interested in following in your footsteps and living aboard and/or cruising? 
    1. I wrote a post awhile back about the importance of determining what kind of cruiser you want to be.  I still feel that's the most important thing you can do. It will save you a lot of heartache and inconvenience later.
  10. What motivates you to blog and what tips can you offer fellow bloggers?
    1. As I said at the beginning of this post, we blog primarily for family and friends, to help other people realize that they, too, can make their dreams a reality, and as a journal for ourselves. We promised early on to be honest, to paint an accurate picture of our experiences. While our experiences may be vastly different from our fellow cruisers, we hope that any dreamers reading our writing will set themselves more realistic expectations and, as a result, have a more successful cruising experience. Being honest with yourself is essential to being happy while cruising, so it's my only tip for fellow bloggers.
For more questions of a different variety, you can also visit our Newly Salted interview, as well as our 6-month equipment review.

Thanks to all for the vote of confidence that your readership brings us, as well as the inspiration your comments have given us over the last 7 years. Fair Winds!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Sure they will ...

Yesterday was a good day. The Beast came to life and Kintala was a going concern once again. But the engine run came late in the day and didn't do much more than prove the Beast still had life in it and that the cooling system wasn't spewing raw or fresh water everywhere.

That last was a bit of a concern and the reason the engine run had come so late in the day. For, earlier in the day, spewing fresh water had proved a bit of a set-back. It wasn't spewing really, more like drooling out of the seam between the exhaust riser and the heat exchanger. The seam held together with the shiny new studs and supposedly sealed with brandy new, high-tech, gaskets. It was also the very first thing assembled and thus at the bottom, if you will, of the pile. Getting to it meant taking everything off that we had spent the day before putting on. That was the bad news.

The good news was that, when it comes to mechanical things, the second time one does a thing often goes much, must faster than the first time. I indulged in a few moments of deep depression while watching the drip of cooling fluid, heaved a sigh and a few choice words, then accepted my fate and reached for the ½ inch wrench to start the proceedings. An hour or so later the unit was back up on the bench. A couple of hours after that it was hanging back on the engine.  With the hope of avoiding taking the thing apart a third time to fix a drool, two low tech, home made gaskets were installed and reinforced with ...

No Leak Silicone Gasket
Guaranteed Not To Leak.

It says so right on the tube twice – just in case you didn't see the “NO Leak” subtitle.  It wasn't clear if they really meant it, or if they were just trying to convince themselves (and me) that it would actually work.  But the short engine run at the end of the day proved the advertising.  The wet stuff stayed in the wet stuff tank.  No drips.  No drools.

So today started with a longer run to: a) check again for leaks and, b) warm up the oil for changing. The oil change part didn't happen because it was soon apparent the engine was getting too warm. In spite of the impressive spouts of water gushing from Kintala's port side exhaust, the water temperature gauge climbed right up to 200 degrees and showed no inclination of stopping there. Cue the deep depression once again.  (All gauge readings, by the way, were confirmed with a CEN-TECH infrared thermometer. That thing has become one of the “go to” tools when it comes to troubleshooting. Don't leave the dock without one, even if you don't have a WesterBeast hounding your life.)

Ed Note: And you might want to buy two so you don't have to rescue yours from the galley where your admiral finds it extremely useful to test bread making liquids and pizza pan temps...

Careful to let things cool off a little (the engine, not me) before removing the cap, I did a post run check of the coolant level.  (Having boiling hot and pressurized fluid explode out of the expansion tank of any hot engine will really spoil a day.  I speak from painful experience suffered years ago - and still grimace a little when popping the cap.)

The level was down a little.  Not unexpected. Getting the air out of old marine diesel systems, both fuel and coolant, is a constant source of problems. We really struggled with the engine in Nomad, that thing driving me to near distraction with the gymnastics required to get all the air out of the cooling loop. Something Deb kept reminding me of as I jumped to my normal conclusion that the Beast had come up with yet another way to ruin my day.

Something I grew more sure of with a top off and another run … with the same results. And again. Finally, with a bit of a desperation showing though my normal cheery self, I pulled one of the hoses off the engine that feeds coolant to the boat's water heater. Green stuff was pored in the open end until it flowed all the way around and back out of the engine. It didn't take very much, but it did take some. Then, with the engine running for the fourth (or fifth – I lost count) time, I bled a little air through the valve at the top of the thermostat housing. That puppy gets hot and sits close to a running belt. Some care is needed to get all of ones fingers back whole and unscorched when playing this game, but it worked. The engine settled at 178 degrees, even dropping a little with added RPM.

So tomorrow, with just six days left before Kintala needs to get out of Cooley's, we will try once again to heat the oil and get it changed.

I'm sure things will go just fine.

Sure they will.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Let Autumn reign ...

The Beast is tamed...
Today is the official first day of autumn. With it comes the official end of the Summer From Hell of our first year of cruising. Even better, the WesterBeast rumbled to life today on the second turn of the crankshaft and settled into an easy idle. Buckets of water pulsed out of the exhaust. It may be just wishful thinking on my part, but the Beast seemed as happy as I have ever seen it. Maybe the new exhaust gasket along with a steady flow of raw water and the fixing of loose this and butched up that, actually did some real good. There are still things to do but, as of this evening, there is no reason to regard Kintala as anything but a ready-to-go cruising boat once again. In addition to a happy Beast she has a solid foredeck and new furling system on the staysail. Better again, we have eight days before the ax falls on the dock fees. There are oil changes to do, stuff to clean, and the normal trial of trying to get a boat that has been sitting still way too long, ready to be under way once again. But those are either routine or just good stuff.

The Summer From Hell was not all bad, of course. We spent months with Daughter Eldest, Son-in-Law, and Grand Sons Two. JJ and I sang “BOOM” at the sky. Christopher sat with me and sanded boat parts. We motored up the ICW from Dinner Key to Cooley's with the boys on board, saw a manatee, and went swimming in the ocean. The Family lore that will be passed down long after I am gone has some new chapters in it that will be hard to beat. Between The Bear and the work on Kintala we have seen some ugly and taken a real beating, that can't be denied. But we have also had the chance to share the kind of love that costs. Which, in the end, may be the only kind of love that matters. As difficult as it was, as long as it may take to recover, it is hard to say that it wasn't worth the price. Tonight I am content to accept it for what it was, hope that we did the best we could, and let it be.

Back in my old life the first day of autumn was always a good day. I like the change of seasons and autumn was my favorite. It also meant that winter was next. Which was okay as well. I looked forward the challenges that came with making a living in the sky during the months of winter. I didn't mind the cold (though once-upon-a-time frostbitten hands and feet hurt when the temperature drops) and actually enjoyed the city under a blanket of snow – so long as I didn't have to drive the Z-car on snow covered streets. This new life brings a different meaning to the first day of autumn.

Right up front is that, here in the sub-tropics, the first day of autumn generally means it just rains a little more. It is still in the upper 80s during the day, the humidity is still a killer, and any bald headed men that go out without a hat are just asking for abuse. Best for me though is that, though it doesn't mean that winter is next, it does means that the Islands are next. It will be a few months yet as a new grand baby is due in December and we plan to be back in St. Louis to welcome the new one into the world. But soon after we will be headed across the Stream once again, to spend the winter as ex-pat Americans living in a country that isn't as crazy as the one on our passports. “Winter” means a whole new thing in this cruising life, but I think I like it.

And for now the summer is over. Let Autumn reign.